Posts Tagged special forces

History: The Jessie Scouts–The Contractor/Military Covert Warriors Of The Civil War

“The Jessie Scout was a Federal soldier, dressed and armed a la Rebel.  He was named after Mrs. Jessie Fremont, wife of the General of that name, who first suggested that mode of obtaining information.?“When a Rebel was captured, his furlough or pass was taken from him, and also his outer garments.  A soldier was then found, who resembled him in size, age, and general appearance.  The Rebel’s uniform, from hat to boots, was put upon this man, who assumed the name of the prisoner, and the Federal left the camp, a soldier of the Confederacy…. These Jessie Scouts generally preceded the advance of the army, and they frequently picked up a great many prisoners, without creating any alarm.  I made the acquaintance of many of them, and found them bold, dashing, reckless, good fellows.  I met Major Young, Sheridan’s chief of scouts, and found him eminently fitted for outpost duty and border warfare.”-John Opie, 1899

Every once in awhile, I will come across some history that I have to share. If you are a reader of the blog, you will know that I am particularly interested in history that involves contractors and their contribution to that particular war. During the Civil War, there were privateers and camp followers, but there was also a very unique type of contractor that was used for incredibly dangerous missions. These were the civilian scouts. Specifically, the Jesse Scouts are the group I would like to focus on.

I like to refer to them more as pseudo operators, as opposed to just spies.  These guys would purposely wear the uniform of the enemy as a means to operate behind enemy lines. Their missions varied from spying to conducting raids, and the risks associated with getting caught could result in torture and death. They were very much hated, and definitely earned their higher pay. They also provided crucial intelligence for the war, and they were pretty damned good at ‘capturing flags’. lol

Now what is interesting about the Jesse Scouts, or any of the other scouts/spies of either side, is the fact that these were blended work forces. Meaning they had enlisted scouts mixed with civilian scouts. I imagine the civilian scouts were used because they brought a special skill set to the table–like the ability to guide folks through enemy country, smuggle things, or whatever capability a force at that time might need.

I should also bring up how I stumbled upon the Jessie Scouts. During my research into the 8 civilian recipients of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War and Indian Wars, I had perked up when reading about a certain civilian scout named William Woodall. I was curious about the unit he served in as a ‘Chief Civilian Scout’. Here is the citation:

William H. Woodall
Rank and Organization: Civilian scout, U.S. Army, Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s Headquarters, during Civil War.
Place and Date: Virginia, Appomattox campaign, Sailors Creek, March 29 to April 9, 1865. Entered service at Winchester, Virginia. Birthdate: unknown.
Date Of Issue: 25 April 1865.
Place: Washington, D.C., 3 May 1865.
Note: Was Chief Civilian Scout for Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, which consisted of VI and XIX Corps.
Captured flag of Brigadier General Rufus Barringer’s headquarters brigade.
The following flag is listed as headquarter flag of General Rufus Barringer. After the promotion of James B.Gordon to Brigadier General, Barringer was put into command of the 1st NC Cavalry. When Gordon was killed, Barringer received his promotion to General and was now in charge of the North Carolina Brigade in the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. So this is probably the last flag the 1st NC Cavalry followed into battle. At least US archives list this flag together with the regiment.
On morning of April, 6, 1865, a small party of federal soldiers, dressed as Confederates, captured General Barringer and his guard. Together with the General this flag was captured also.
Remarkable is that this flag, although used by cavalry, has with 47×47 inches the size of an Infantry Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The blue cross bars are 5inches wide, the white stripes are 0.5 inches. The flag has 13 white applied five pointed stars on both sides, at 3.25 – 3.5 inches in diameter. The white frame arround the flag has a width of 2 inches. The flag is made of so called Bunting, with only the white parts being cotton. The flag is now in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, NC.

After putting together the pieces, I was directed toward the unit he was in. Not only did he serve as a civilian scout in this famous unit, he was also called upon for a covert operation in Mexico in which he was killed. Here is the story I found while at David Phillip’s excellent website on the subject:

Why America took interest in what was happening in Mexico
Following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Grant knew that a large Confederate army remained in Texas. Of equal concern, a large European army composed of French, Austrian, and Belgian troops were fighting among side Imperial Mexican soldiers supporting Maximilian, an Austrian prince. Grant’s fear involved the creation of an allied army of former Confederates, Europeans, and Imperial Mexicans that would continue the Civil War out of Mexican territory. He quickly ordered Sheridan and a large number of veteran Union troops to move west.
While the records are vague and confusing, there are indications that two separate – and compartmented – programs were developed. The first was encouraged, if not ordered, by Grant that resulted in a former general, Lew Wallace, managing an essentially civilian-mercenary effort. The second program involved US Army officers and enlisted soldiers serving as advisors, trainers, and in some cases they may have participated in combat operations.
The Jessie Scouts involved arrived in the theater of operations in mid-1865 and their operations apparently concluded in early 1867 with Sergeant Jim White delivering a diplomatic note deep inside Mexico to Benito Juarez’s provisional government in an effort to prevent the execution of Maximilian.
Scout casualties were heavy. Available Union army records indicate that Lieutenant-Colonel Henry H. Young and four enlisted scouts were involved under Sheridan, but this was probably the advance party. Scout Arch Rowand’s letters from New Orleans indicated that several scouts requested discharges with their parent regiments, but available evidence exists to show that 12-15 enlisted scouts and Young entered Mexico by boat from New Orleans in late October 1866 and most were killed under relatively mysterious circumstances. Young was definitely a casualty and former Confederate, William H. Woodall, also a Medal of Honor recipient, was probably killed. The identities of the remaining scouts who lost their lives are unknown.
The scouts delivered intelligence to Sheridan’s headquarters that enabled him to understand what was occurring throughout northern Mexico. They also developed individual operations against Imperial Mexican commanders and may have recruited two former Confederate officers to kill the Mexican commander at Matamoras. Currently, it is difficult to assess overall the impact the scouts had in supporting Sheridan’s operations into Mexico as much of their reporting has not been discovered.

Pretty interesting history, and William was a stud. Definitely check out the links below that I have provided, to include a PDF of William G. Beymer’s book about the Jessie Scouts called On Hazardous Service. My take away from all of this is that during that war, every resource and able bodied man and woman was essential to both sides. At the time, using private industry to help accomplish the mission was certainly a part of the strategy.  And recognizing men and women civilian contractors for their heroism was also something we did back then.

The Jessie Scouts were also the special forces of the Union.  You could easily compare them to MACV SOG who would drop special forces behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, or to the Selous Scouts who would operate behind enemy lines in their war in Africa. The common tactic of all of these units was to blend into their environments by wearing the uniform of the enemy, and use every ounce of their wits and capabilities to survive and accomplish the mission. They also depended upon captured and turned enemy combatants to further give them an edge behind enemy lines. Anything it took to accomplish the mission, these forces did it.

The most profound point the reader can take away from this history is that contractors were used for ‘offensive operations’ in past US wars.  That they were right there with the military, doing the extremely dangerous work of war fighting. These contractors also paid a horrible price when they got caught by the enemy. The contractors back then were even used to protect Lincoln (Pinkertons), which also makes a pretty amazing statement as to the public/private relationship back then. Pretty cool history, and check it out. –Matt

The flag William Woodall captured.

The pay of a civilian scout.
Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, he became a civilian “Scout” for the Union Army. Civilian “Scouts” were very well paid, sometimes as much as $1-$3 per day or $30-$90 or more a month depending on the hazardous nature of their mission in enemy territory. (Note: The base pay of a private soldier in the Union Army was $13 a month).
Link to source here.
Jessie Scouts – Special Operations Forces (SOF) of the American Civil War.
The Jessie Scouts, dressed in Gray, raised havoc behind Confederate lines.
The Jessie Scout did in the American Civil War what US Military Special Operations Forces do today
By David L. Phillips
Jessie Scouts
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jessie Scouts were irregular soldiers during the American Civil War on the side of the Union who operated in territory of the Confederate States of America in the southern United States in insurgency missions. The unit was created by John C. Frémont and named in honour of his wife, rather than of a Colonel Jessie, who was himself a myth. The initial Jessie Scout unit was formed in St. Louis, Missouri early in the war as the plan to develop independent scouts was implemented. The first man to command the scouts was Charles C. Carpenter. The Jessie Scouts wore Confederate uniforms with a white handkerchief over their shoulders to signify their allegiance to friendly troops, and number around 58 for much of the war, commanded by Major Henry Young.
From the book, On Hazardous Service
By William G. Beymer
Archibald Rowand Jr.
To Major H. H. Young, of my staff, chief of scouts, and the thirty or forty men of his command, who took their lives in their hands, cheerfully going wherever ordered, to obtain that great essential of success, information, I tender my gratitude. Ten of these men were lost.—From Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s report of the expedition from Winchester to Petersburg, Virginia. February 27— March 28, 1865. Official Records, Vol. 46: I: 481. “THIRTY or forty men, of whom ten were lost.” It was not chance which worded that phrase. Sheridan has chosen his words well. Of the ten, no one of them died as do men in battles; two were found by their comrades hanging by their own halter-straps; several more died like trapped animals, fighting desperately, at bay. And the others—never returned. Until the Great Book opens it will never be known where, or how, they died; they never returned, that is all. Of the ten, not a man was wearing the uniform of the country for which he died.

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Industry Talk: FBO News–USSOCOM Looking To Contract With PSC’s For Guard Services In Afghanistan

This is cool, and a hit tip to Wired’s Danger Room for finding this one. Sometimes I forget to check FBO every now and then, but I can always depend upon the the thousands of readers/bloggers/news groups  out there to find the good stuff and get the story out there.

On the flip side, I do not share the same concern as Noah does on this contract. These SF troopers will not stand by for any funny business on their compounds, and will manage these contracts in their own little way.  Meaning, many SF guys have connections within the companies already, because the companies are filled with SF types. If a company plays games, the SF network/mafia will certainly come down hard. Hell, many contractors who were SF, are still playing the military game in the National Guard.

The other reason why I am not worried about their ability to manage this stuff, is because of how small of a contract it will be, and the level of cultural expertise inherent within the SF community. They will know exactly how to properly motivate their contracted guard force–be it expats or local nationals.

If anything, that would be a cool camp to work at for all the possible networking potential and cross training. I just hope that USSOCOM does not fall into the trap of ‘lowest priced, technically acceptable’ contracting vehicle, because that is certainly a recipe for disaster. Give them the flexibility to choose the guard force that is the ‘best value’ for the money. Also put into the contract all the necessary quality control mechanisms needed to keep this stuff in line. Pretty typical really, and all the past lessons apply.

Who knows who will get the contract, but as the solicitation stated, this is a quick one.  So we should know who they picked before summer at least–hopefully. If any readers or the contracting officers of this solicitation have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments. –Matt

Edit: 05/27/2011 Wired posted this update.

“The Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan put 10 contracts for “perimeter security“ up for bid on Friday morning. Hired guards, mostly Afghans, will keep watch over anyone who approaches the elite commandos’ remote outposts. The bases on which they’ll work range in size from tiny “village support platforms” staffed by a mere 12-man “A Team” to one near Kabul’s infamous Pol-e-Charkhi prison, but there are uniform expectations for would-be guards. Some of them read more like baseline conditions for membership in civilized humanity.”

Private Security Contract
Solicitation Number: H92237-11-R-0870
Agency: Other Defense Agencies
Office: U.S. Special Operations Command
Location: Headquarters Field Assistance Division
Notice Type: Combined Synopsis/Solicitation
Posted Date: April 6, 2011
Response Date: Apr 15, 2011 12:00 pm Eastern
Archiving Policy: Automatic, 15 days after response date
Archive Date: April 30, 2011
Original Set Aside: N/A
Set Aside: N/A
Classification Code: R — Professional, administrative, and management support services
NAICS Code: 561 — Administrative and Support Services/561612 — Security Guards and Patrol Services
Solicitation Number: H92237-11-R-0870
Notice Type: Combined Synopsis/Solicitation
Added: Apr 06, 2011 12:51 pm

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Film: Casting Call For The Show Most Lethal, $100,000 To The Winner

     Now this is cool. This is the casting notice for an upcoming show on Spike TV called ‘Most Lethal’. I figured that many of my readers are exactly the type of guys that would qualify for such a thing, and if they wanted to take a break from contracting in the war for a bit, this just might be your deal. Good luck out there. –Matt

Here is the Facebook page for the casting here.

Here is the email if you cannot read it on the poster below:


Most Lethal

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Games: Medal Of Honor Tier 1 Interview Series

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Afghanistan: U.S. Eager To Replicate Afghan Villager’s Successful Revolt Against Taliban

     Conversations with Gizab leaders and Special Forces officers suggest that there was no single proximate cause. The uprising appears to have been the result of a combination of Taliban overreaching, U.S. encouragement and local resentment.

     “We’re looking for the patterns,” said a State Department official in southern Afghanistan. “If we can find it, we’ll be on the verge of a breakthrough.”


     I really liked this article for several reasons. For one, good for Lalay for taking matter into his own hands and rallying the village for the defense. The second part I like, is the strategy development aspect of this article. They are trying to see the patterns that led up to Lalay taking matters into his own hands, and the keys to success of a tribal defense force like this.

     So let’s look at some of the factors of success which I keyed in on, and also what is required to replicate this. (in my opinion at least)

     The first is motivation. There must be motivation within the village to rise up against the Taliban. You also need a leader who has the motivation to rise up, and manage the revolt. So motivation is important. And consequence do to inaction is also important. These guys had both.

You also need a leader who has the will or resolve to do this. Not everyone can be a Lalay–someone that folks look up to and think of as a strong leader. This guy has to be someone that people respect and identify with. And that ‘Lalay’ needs to be pissed off enough to act. Which goes back to motivation. The Taliban pissed off Lalay by wanting the money that the government gave Lalay for the loss of his family, due to a Taliban IED. That would piss me off too. But acting on that anger, and putting action to words takes a special kind of individual.

     Notice also that Lalay executed three prisoners. Culturally speaking, this was acceptable to them and at that time. This shows the kind of resolve Lalay has, and how much hatred he has for the Taliban. Acts like that may be be repulsive to the west, but in Afghanistan, that is an act of someone with determination and little regard for an enemy that has little regard for him. It also shows that Lalay has the strength necessary to kill the bad guy–no weakness there, and a village in dire straights needs a leader who has that strength. And notice in the article that folks are flocking to his program of village defense. Of course we would like him to not kill prisoners, and I don’t condone that here. I am just saying that the act itself is something he felt he had to do in order to get the respect(from the village, from the Taliban) necessary to do what he had to do. To him, showing compassion (weakness) was not part of the game plan.

     It kind of reminds me of the old west movies, where a town is held captive by some bad people, and no one has the courage to step up. And then some contract sheriff comes into town, or some stranger on a pale horse, and motivates the people to do something about it (of course after the pale rider has that motivation to do so). Meanwhile, that individual shows great resolve in defeating those bad people. And usually in those movies, that leader had to be more ruthless and effective than those bad guys. In the case of Lalay, he was that stranger riding into town on the horse. He was that guy that said ‘follow me’.

     Now the next point is where I can inject some common sense free market warfare principles into this conversation, that the military planners and strategists continue to miss or forget. You must provide reward or interest, much like General George Washington provided such things to his troops in order to maintain a standing army(or village defense force). If you want to make this the most popular team to be on, then pay them accordingly and give them the weapons and training necessary to do the job. I cannot emphasize this enough. Pay them more than the Taliban offers, and pay them enough to be competitive with the military or police.

     If that won’t work, then provide a bounty system for the endeavor. Put a price on the heads of Taliban that are wanted by the government. It worked in the wild west, and it could work in Afghanistan if set up properly. The point with all of this is there must be incentive. Because without incentive, a volunteer force will eventually dissolve because they have more important things to do like take care of their family, farm, etc. Stuff to think about, and I think any effort dedicated to understanding the dynamics of this event is time well spent.

     Finally, I have to inject another point into this discussion that is not talked about. If the Taliban are giving up to Lalay, then Lalay is in a prime position to set up pseudo-operations, and use those former enemy combatants to find even more of these booger eaters. If Lalay declared that if these former Taliban want redemption in the village, that they ‘must do this one thing’ for the village, then this might be a way to turn some of these guys. These former Taliban would be outstanding tools to use for really screwing up their former employers. That is how you find out who the shadow government is, what they are up to and where they are at. We could be making awesome matrixes off of this information, and doing some heavy duty damage. You could also find out who is sympathetic to the Taliban in these villages, all because you have turned Taliban who can walk the walk, and talk the talk. No acting really required there, and turning these guys and using Lalay for that process should be considered. –Matt


U.S. eager to replicate Afghan villagers’ successful revolt against Taliban

By Rajiv ChandrasekaranMonday, June 21, 2010

GIZAB, AFGHANISTAN — The revolt of the Gizab Good Guys began with a clandestine 2 a.m. meeting. By sunrise, 15 angry villagers had set up checkpoints on the main road and captured their first prisoners. In the following hours, their ranks swelled with dozens of rifle-toting neighbors eager to join.

Gunfights erupted and a panicked request for help was sent to the nearest U.S. troops, but the residents of this mountain-ringed hamlet in southern Afghanistan held their ground. By sundown, they managed to pull off a most unusual feat: They kicked out the Taliban.

“We had enough of their oppression,” Lalay, the one-named shopkeeper who organized the uprising, said in recounting the late April battle. “So we decided to fight back.”

U.S. diplomats and military officials view the rebellion as a milestone in the nearly nine-year-long war. For the first time in this phase of the conflict, ordinary Afghans in the violence-racked south have risen on their own to reclaim territory under insurgent control.

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Books: Secret Commandos–Behind Enemy Lines With The Elite Warriors Of SOG

    This is a great book, and is just one of many that Mr. Plaster has written over the years about SOG. What is cool is that I continue to get something new out of these books, every time I flip through them. Lots of battlefield innovation going on there and they should definitely be on your reading list.

    The one area that I wanted to talk about with these books, was the North Vietnamese tracker teams that were tasked with hunting down these SOG teams.  On page 54-55 of this book, Mr. Plaster goes into detail about what it was like to be hunted by these NVA tracking teams, and it was fascinating.

     One of the deals I picked up on was the use of CS powder to throw off the dogs the Vietnamese would use.  Although, according to the SOG troopers, it was skilled trackers who were more feared than dog teams.  The reason for that is because a human can read the land and knows to keep their mouth shut.(the dogs were noisy, and only as good as the handlers)  The NVA tracking teams would also drive teams purposely into traps.

      The one story that Plaster talked about was being followed by a tracker team that wanted to be heard.  Plaster’s SOG team figured out that the trackers were purposely trying to spook the recon team into paths, or channeling them into NVA blocking forces/ambushes.  What made these trackers so effective, was how well they knew their little piece of land they were assigned along the Ho Chi Minh trail and their ability to read spoor. As a result, many SOG teams feared these trackers and had to plan accordingly.  Many SOG teams were also killed and a few captured due to the efforts of these trackers.  Having a knowledge of combat tracking in that environment, was just one key to the success of SOG troopers operating in such a hostile environment.

     My other favorite part was Project Eldest Son.  This was basically booby trapping ammunition, and planting that ammo on dead NVA soldiers that the teams would kill.  This ammo was designed to destroy the AK when it was fired, as well as hurting or killing the soldier firing it. These types of operations would put doubt into the quality of ammunition the NVA troops were getting from the Chinese, and then hopefully hinder the relationship between China and Vietnam at the time. That was the idea at least.

    One other story that I liked was about Bob Howard’s team and their use of Nightingales.  These were distraction devices designed to make the enemy think they are being fired upon, when in fact they were just firecrackers going off.  Pretty slick.  But how the team used it, and the end result, was fantastic.  The SOG team decided to slip one of these devices right into the center of a camp of NVA.  When it went off, the NVA woke up and thought that an enemy attack was happening right in their camp.  And because the SOG teams were known to dress up like the NVA and use their same weapons (pseudo operations), the NVA instantly thought that a SOG team was attacking.  The funny thing was, is that there was no SOG team attacking and the chaos was being fueled by panicked NVA and the Nightingale.  The outcome is what was really crazy.  The NVA was actually shooting at each other and killing one another.  It is the kind of results that would make the Joker from Batman giggle. In the end, the NVA camp was littered with dead and the SOG troopers were able to escape unharmed.

   Anyways, check it out and let me know what you think.  These books have been around for awhile, and they are great reads while out on deployment. On a side note, the video game called Call of Duty: Blackops has a story line based on the MACV SOG missions.(Mr. Plaster advised on that game) –Matt


Secret Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines with the Elite Warriors of SOG

John L. Plaster

SOG was the Studies and Observations Group, a U.S. Army organization that operated behind enemy lines in the Vietnam War. It gathered intelligence and was responsible for rescuing downed pilots, identifying bombing targets, kidnapping enemy officers, wiretapping phone lines, ambushing convoys, and mining the Ho Chi Minh trail. Plaster shares details of his training in Fort Bragg as a Green Beret before being sent to Vietnam, where he served three one-year tours in SOG. He chronicles the group’s operations and portrays the soldiers he worked with there. Some readers may find too much here about fighting a war that many people today believe should have never happened, but the book nonetheless is an intriguing first-person account of this elite group’s intrepid operations.

Product Description

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